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LJWorld.com asked Rick Ingram five questions about issues facing the Lawrence school board:

1. Where, specifically, in the district's budget would you look first to make cuts to offset anticipated declines in state funding? Where would be the last?

The future of children is at stake when we address budget cuts. The candidates, like the public, have too little information about the budget to make fully informed decisions. One of my first initiatives would be to
increase transparency and make the budget understandable to all taxpayers. I would also gather information from the community before making cuts to a program or before floating bonds. Funds have been put aside in the contingency fund and the special reserve fund so I would propose that we begin to spend that surplus down. I would also look toward administrative efficiency for savings, as well as a curriculum review that would allows us to look for efficiency but to do some in a way that maintains resources and optimizes opportunities for academic excellence.

2. What is the best way to "close the achievement gap" in schools?

Closing the achievement gap will take engagement with the entire community. Full day kindergarten and maintaining early childhood educational opportunities are important parts of decreasing the achievement gap. I would also consider remedial programs and possibly offering after school tutoring sessions. These programs might be able to take advantage of some of the resources that KU could provide. Increasing parental involvement is also important to decreasing this gap. A fuller engagement in extracurricular activities will also help anchor some students to schools and help increase academic motivation.

Beyond these specific ideas, however, I would like to take a more comprehensive approach to issues related to the achievement gap, such as parental involvement and our dropout rate. Given that the school board have embraced the idea of a task force, I will advocate for the creation of a community task force to address the achievement gap, the dropout rate, and parental involvement. Such a task force, composed of committed and knowledgeable individuals, would work to identity the causes of the gap and dropping out, as well as barriers to parental involvement, and then recommend ways to address these issues.

3. What would you include in a proposed bond issue?

Any bond should be carefully developed in light of community concerns and feedback and must carefully weigh the property tax burden. With these caveats in mind, it is important to note that the task force recommends bonds for two different purposes. The first is for funds “sufficient to remedy the deficiencies and needs in our elementary facilities”. I support this, but would revise it to address the deficiencies and needs in all schools in the district, including high schools which will be impacted by the arrival of 9th graders.

The second recommendation of the task force is for bonds for the consolidation of schools. I cannot at this time support a bond issue to consolidate schools, for the following reasons. The task force recommendations lay out a number of factors to consider, such as construction costs and an academic plan for English language learners, but these factors are too vaguely described for taxpayers to know the cost and understand what they are getting for their dollars. Moreover, the recommended scenarios are not consistent with the criteria developed by the task force. As but one example, the task force concluded that the optimal range of school size is between 300 and 500 students, but one of the consolidated schools is projected to have well over 500 students, and would have a capacity for 600 students. The school closure and school consolidation plan would also impact other schools; Sunflower and Schwegler would experience a substantial increase in student numbers. Finally, I support the research cited by the task force which, in fact, shows higher achievement levels in schools with considerably fewer than 300-500 students.

4. How would you increase public participation in district decision making?

The school board members should see themselves as collaborators with the parents and the community, and decisions must be based on a genuine and thorough consideration of all views. I will work to find ways to actively solicit input from stakeholders. The creation of digital forums and on-line questionnaires would be one way where the public can make its voice heard. In such forums, teachers, parents, the community and even students can discuss ideas and offer opinions about issues facing the schools. I would also like to see the district communicate more directly to parents about important issues by using voice mail and e-mail. These mediums could be used to request input on important issues and let parents know how and where they can make their voices heard. We could also explore creating community advisory groups whose role is to seek, and convey, input from the community. With a little bit of creativity and some innovation, we can do better than merely allowing individuals to speak for three minutes at school board meetings and public forums.

5. If you could send a tweet — that's 140 characters or less — to legislators in Topeka on behalf of the Lawrence school district, what would you say?

Kansas could be a nation leader in educational achievement and innovation with sufficient funding. But we cannot "cut" our way to greatness.